April 24, 2014

Today, Ten Years Ago …

Windy Skies  came to be.

I was looking for my machine that afternoon, and felt the need to write about it, here. 

I’m not sure what I’m looking for now or if I’m looking for anything at all.

There’re fewer bends in the road now, and more dead ends.

When this place started out I could not see the end of the road.

Now, I think I can see it in the distance.

Atleast I think I do.

For those of you who still find your way here, by design or accident, thank you for choosing to ride with me.

April 23, 2014

Polling Day: Persona, Perception And Politics

Mumbai goes to the polls tomorrow in the next phase of India's General Elections to cast its vote on who should govern India.

Stepping out early morning today it was impossible to miss the front page advertisement by the Shiv Sena in Hamara Mahanagar (Our City) featuring the late Bal Thackeray, the Sena's founder, and in whose absence for the first time in the party’s history, Shiv Sena will contest the Lok Sabha elections.

प्रगति में हो गति इसलिए महायुति

For Speed in Progress, Hence Mahayuti.

Mahayuti is a pre-electoral alliance between Shiv Sena, BJP, RPI (Athawale), Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana (SSS) and the Rashtra Samaj Paksha.

Sitting sideways, his legs extended, the rickshaw driver was busy reading the newspaper when I hailed him for a ride.

“That newspaper front page ad is the only sign I’ve seen in many days to remind me that a Lok Sabha election is upon us,” I said to him as we got in. He smiled before folding the newspaper and turning the key in the ignition.

The rickshaw chugged along through morning traffic.

I continued, “It doesn’t look like the election is upon us, unlike in the years before when large hoardings, corner meetings, road-side pandals with loudspeakers blaring, processions of party-flag waving youth astride revving motorcycles and foot marches were a common sight during Lok Sabha elections. It seems so quiet now.”

“There has been noise but it is less now,” he replied before commenting, “It’s good in a way that poll expenditure is being watched. It’s such a waste when so many are poor and struggling and here we had parties spending crores and being a general nuisance.”

While I agreed with him in part, I didn’t make the effort to explain the other aspect of poll-related expenditure – affording earning opportunities for poorer sections of societies. Crores are still being spent but less noisily than before.

Office-goers like your truly, bound all day in offices, are more likely to miss out on roadside campaigning as opposed to rickshaw drivers criss-crossing the city. Even then I’ve found election campaigning to be relatively quiet this time.

Soon talk turned to parties and predictions.

“Which party do you want to see in power?” I pressed him.

At first he laughed before answering.

“I’m an AAP (Aam Admi Party) member but I want to see Modi Sarkar in power.”

Strange as his reply seemed, it made sense once he clarified.

“AAP cannot come to power (at the centre) so it’s better that BJP gets the vote to improve its chances at forming the Government. So I will vote for BJP,” he said.

Implicit in his dilemma and his eventual choice of the party which would get his vote was the rejection of the Congress “at all costs”, and the desire to ensure that his vote would not be “wasted” on his own party (AAP) that had little or no chance of winning the mandate to govern India. AAP, the upstart has a long way to go still.

BJP it seems has won the perception (that it will win) vote to an extent that party members of other political parties, clear in their mind on who should not come to power (read Congress), will switch their votes to BJP to make their votes count.

It’s anybody guess how much this reason alone will affect parties like AAP (written off) and how strong a factor will it be in pushing the BJP-led alliance ahead of the Congress-led one.


"Arvind Kejriwal ekdum perfect aadmi hai, ekdum perfect," the UP-wallah rickshaw driver said before continuing, "par jhoot ka sahara leta hai satta mein aane ke liye (but he takes recourse to lies to come to power). He says he won't do a thing, and then reverses his decision and goes ahead and does that very thing."

While this in itself cannot be construed to be a lie in the context of lies used to escape responsibility for actions, cover up frauds, evade punishment and the like, the Indian street however sees what constitutes a lie, a tad differently.

Here, it's about the honour of your word. If you say you won't form a Government with the help of the Congress, you will be held accountable for your word by people who cannot stand the Congress and voted for you to make a clean break with the seemingly much despised national party largely seen to be corrupt and inefficient on the back of successive scams uncovered in its latest term in office under the helm of Manmohan Singh.

That Arvind Kejriwal went back on his word of not taking the help of the Congress to form the Govt. in Delhi after the assembly elections there has not been forgotten by many.

The perception (of going back on your word) looks likely to cost Arvind Kejriwal (and AAP) many votes. How much is anybody's guess.

It's benefiting the BJP. By how much is again, anybody's guess.

March 05, 2014

Anything For You

There’s THIS …….

 Horn  Please


THEN there’s THIS ....

Horn  Piles

And what’s more, it comes with an assurance

तुमच्यासाठी काय पण..
(Tumchya Sathi Kai Pan)

(Marathi for “Anything For You”)

To whoever who wrote that,

I’m sure ……..

For the laughs, only.

February 27, 2014

Shiv, Shiv, Shiv

Murudeshwar, 2013

तस्मात्कालवशे विश्वं न स विश्ववशे स्थितः |
शिवस्य तु वशे कालो न कालस्य वशे शिवः || 9 ||

February 15, 2014

Riding Good


Many years ago my friend had a home where this road ends on the banks of a large river.

Once in a while, on early mornings or quiet afternoons, I would find myself on this road, riding the silence while coconut palms converged over me even as others parted to allow me a ride through the stillness, breaching the quiet of a Goan countryside.

I never looked back to see the tall coconut palms close behind me as they surely must, letting silence hang in the air once more.

Their shadows marked my passing in neat intervals and I might as well have been making a river crossing by train over a truss bridge, the struts casting their shadows in the window at periodic intervals.

Like a bubble travelling through stillness, my presence on the road was only tolerated for its transience, opening a path for my passing before closing behind me; the quiet once again restoring stillness and sanity to the country.

My friend no longer lives there, having made his home elsewhere, and I hardly take this road anymore.

My memories however have found a home where this road ends on the banks of the river.

And they’re fine memories of a time long gone.

February 07, 2014

The Lord Of The Plains Stands Silent

At one time, the Malik-e-Maidan (Lord Of The Plains) was the largest medieval canon known to mankind. Now it stands in silence, muzzled as much by the passage of time as by events that rendered it inconsequential.

It’s past four in the afternoon as Madhav and I ride north through Godbole Mala in Bijapur. We ride past elegant stone houses with sloping roofs and balconies projecting over quiet lanes. The old stone houses stand no higher than two storeys and mark themselves out with portholes set in gables, fascia boards, decorative awnings, architraves, and eaves boards.

Soon they give away to tenements crowded roadside, structures that barely fit families and backdrops to their inhabitants’ lives lived on the street. Old elegance stands uneasily with deprivation.

It’s the month of Ramzan, and the streets are silent. In a little under an hour, as evening falls, neighbourhoods will resonate to the call for prayer from mosques in the old city, many of them centuries old. Two hours later as dusk sets in, the neighbourhoods will resonate yet again, this time with Iftar call, and in Muslim homes, rich and poor, the faithful will gather with their families and break their Ramzan fast.

Soon we turn left and head for the traffic circle where an imposing statue of Shivaji, the legendary Maratha Warrior King, stands on a high pedestal. Astride a horse his raised sword points west, along a road that breaches the old fort wall along its north-south perimeter before disappearing up a gentle incline that buses bound for Belgaum and Solapur take on their way out of Bijapur in North Karnataka.

It’s a busy road, one that I would often cycle along on my way out of the old city to Torvi, a little over 4 kms. away, and a gateway of sorts to the great plains of the Deccan, the scene of many a fierce battle shaping the history of South India, and by consequence that of India itself.

The Chalukyas, the Yadavas, the Khiljis, the Sangamas of Vijayanagara, the Mughals, the Bahamanis, the Nizam Shahis, the Marathas, the Qutab Shahis, and the British among others sought their destiny in the Deccan through the centuries, triggering tumultuous events in their wake. And Bijapur figured in many a fierce struggle, its fortifications, and guns booming across the plains, and surviving to tell the tale long after their masters bit the dust.

My ride to Torvi would take me past Navraspur where Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the fifth King of the Adil Shahi dynasty, known more for his pursuit of the Arts than war, once made an ill-fated attempt to build a new capital dedicated to music, Nav-Ras-Pur (City of New Raga) outside the formidable fort wall that encircled the city and to whose bastions by the traffic circle Madhav and I were headed, to see the canon known as the Malik-e-Maidan, Lord Of The Plains.

Not for nothing has the massive canon earned its sobriquet Malik-e-Maidan, earned as much for its dimensions as for the sheer terror it sought to sow in the hearts of the enemy.

Said to be the largest battlefield bell metal armament ever cast in its time (1549 AD), it is 4 metres long, one and half metres wide, and weighs a staggering 55 tons, the latter being one reason why, it is said in some quarters, the British did not ship it out of India as booty given the cost of transporting it to the coast after first considering sending it to the King of England in 1823. 

It was just too big a loot to carry to add to those looted from India.

When Madhav and I stepped past the entrance and took the flight of broad stone steps cut in the side of the fort wall, the lawns running along the length of the walls on the inside were empty save a group of college-aged youth resting in the soothing patch of green with their backs to the wall, savouring snacks they had brought along.

There’re not many places in Bijapur aside of monuments maintained by the Govt. of Karnataka, where one can see green lawns. There’s little water to go around in the city.

An elderly lady, Fatima, sat on the steps offering tourists pictorial strips of Bijapur’s tourist sights for Rs. 10/- each. Most visitors were on the right side of thirty, locals on an evening out, and had little use for the pictures. I bought one. The Malik-e-Maidan featured in the listing along with the other obvious choices, Gol Gumbaz, and Ali Rauza among others.

The steps lead to an entrance that conveys visitors past a lawn to Sherza-i-Buruj or the Lion Tower, so named after the two lions etched into the stone wall by a second entrance inside that leads to the tower by a short flight of steps. 

By the two lions, a stone tablet bearing inscriptions and sheltered by a stone slab projecting on two stone brackets is affixed in the tower wall, likely indicating the provenance of the twin bastions.

A narrow, covered entrance opens into the bastion, a massive battlement that sweeps a wide curve and looks out west. Two adjacently raised circular platforms for canons, reached by a short flight of stone steps, man the bastion.  

Both circular platforms are empty. The occupant of one, the Malik-e-Maidan, supported on wearing wooden beams, is now located behind protective fencing by the steps leading to the circular platform.

Of the three inscriptions on the canon, two indicate it was cast by Muhammad Bin Husain Rumi in 1549 in Ahmednagar. 

The third inscription was added by Aurangzeb after he breached Bijapur’s defences and conquered the city in 1685. Visitors from near and far have etched their names on the cannon seeing permanence in the canon’s immortality. Of the other occupant on the adjacent platform there’s no sign nor any indication of what happened to it.

From the circular platform in the bastion projecting outward, the walls of the fort can be seen extending north-south in either direction, with portions of the once formidable construction in disrepair approaching the north-western entrance manned by the Shahpur gate, not far from Chand Bawdi and Uppli Buruj.

A wind is blowing hard as Madhav and I trace the semi-circular notches in the surface, evidently to allow for the massive cannons to be steered into firing position.

An opening in the circular platform, now covered by iron grills, provides a view of what was once a water tank. The bastion also held powder chambers.

An uncertain but steady of visitors flow past the legendary canon, each stopping by the behemoth out of curiosity and awe, probably wondering of the significance behind the canon’s muzzle shaped as the head of a lion with wide open jaws swallowing an elephant.

The Malik-e-Maidan was carted back to Bijapur as a war trophy by Ali Adil Shah after the retreat of Nizam Shah in 1562, apparently taking the effort of 10 elephants, 400 oxen and several hundred men to accomplish the task. And to think, in 1854, it was offered up at an auction for Rs. 150/- for its metal, only to be saved upon the cancellation of the auction.

Clouds shut out the sun, enveloping the ramparts with a melancholy hue, almost solemn. Standing by the canon long silent it’s difficult not to cast one’s mind back to the heydays of the city, of the wonder that must’ve gripped the army upon having this bronze colossus in their midst, of the confidence and pride it must have bestowed in their ranks, of the power it projected onto the battlefield, a power now silenced by the tide that turned history.

February 03, 2014

Missing In Mumbai

People go missing in Mumbai.
Dogs go missing in Mumbai.

Sometimes people are not found.
Sometimes dogs are found.

January 27, 2014

The Titanic and M.N.S, दिल से और मन से

Images that stand on their own, each telling their own stories and unrelated to one another, will sometimes yield a narrative to a meandering mind when paired with each other, more by chance than intention.

On Mumbai roads, on long commutes, their pairing sometimes helps me endure the ride.

One such instance presented itself on the back of an auto rickshaw recently, driven no doubt by a rickshawallah “Dil Se” (दिल से) dedicated to the cause of M.N.S or Mansa or Mansey (म.न.से) as Raj Thackeray’s party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, is known.

दिल से, म.न.से

दिल से  और  मन से, म.न.से

Wah bhai, wah. 


Only I doubt if Raj Thackeray, for all his skills in steering his new ship in the rocky sea of state politics, would be amused seeing the Titanic share space with the rickshawallah’s “Dil Se” (heartfelt) dedication to M.N.S. that too in the election year where many, including the Shiv Sena, hope Raj will sink to the bottom.

January 12, 2014

Bullet Sardar

Sardar matlab Power. Power matlab Bike. Bike matlab Bullet.

When I first heard this from someone I know closely, I had little doubt that Sardars would subscribe to it as willingly and enthusiastically as the non-Sardars who’ve known Sardars (Sikhs). The Bullet it'd seem is made for them in more ways than one.

You hear the Bullet long before you see it - the lazy thumping of the engine spaced at just the right intervals to pulsate the road in distinctive interludes alternating between “all other noises” and the “Bullet ki awaaz”.

On the Mumbai street it’s the morning raga some commuters play out as they make their way to work and elsewhere astride Royal Enfield ka Bullet variants. They're however few and far between among those from the Bajaj and Hero Honda stable.

While the Royal Enfield Bullet is outnumbered and outrun by nameless other ‘plastic’ bikes of the garden variety on Mumbai roads, it's often mounted by city riders whose persona does little or no justice to its majesty and classic lineage; the Bullet in Mumbai nevertheless soldiers on gamely usually under short riders in formal office-wear carrying Tupperware lunch boxes or laptops in worn shoulder bags to a deadening 9 to 5 routine where they warm their cubicles in meek acquiescence of pot-bellied bosses barking orders – hardly the image of a Bullet Thumper who rumbles the road astride the Royal Enfield.

Think of midgets riding stallions and you’ll empathise with the Royal Enfield Bullet. But then this is Mumbai and not the ‘strapping’ North of Chandigarh or Delhi.

So imagine my surprise one morning recently when I awaited the distinctive thumping of the Bullet joining the traffic flow somewhere behind me to draw alongside only to find a nattily dressed tall Sikh (Sardar) in a dark blue pagdi (turban) paired with a matching untucked shirt and golden jootiyan minus the jurabein thumping along with little or no urgency other than to be riding somewhere for no particular reason or need. Atleast it seemed so from his laid-back manner.

He wove through Mumbai traffic in leisurely mode, the monotone of the Bullet's distinctive thump thump characteristic of the bike cruising at low speed.

The bike bore Chandigarh registration. Aha.

It's not often that I see a Bullet in Mumbai bearing Chandigarh registration. You're more likely however to see a Bullet with Delhi registration plate in the city.

Them Sardars from Chandigarh know how to ride a Bullet, and most importantly why ride one as Mandeep Singh indicates via his tags in the road-shot above.

And equally importantly how to care for one as Vir Nakai of Helmet Stories shows us from Motor Market, Sector 38, Chandigarh when he "went to meet the god of Bullet mechanics in this part of the world".

The Bullet was no more meant to ride to office than it was meant to ride ‘silenced’.

The power the Bullet invests in the rider projects itself the best when restrained to thumping at a leisurely pace, the spaced-out growls reminding passers-by of full-throated roaring should it decide to rev up and speed away.  

Singh is indeed King – the non-Mumbai Singh that is.


Old Delhi Motorcycles – The Film

Directed by Inderjit Singh and Tanveer Singh, watch Bobbee Singh in Old Delhi Motorcycles and you’ll understand the passion that edges toward altruism when a Sardar connects with his Bullet, and in Bobbee’s case, with all the Bullets that come under his care.

Further Reading

December 15, 2013

Enroute To Vengurla, A Sea Of Fish On Land

Soon it was time for us to head back to Goa from Malvan.

We left Malvan at half past three soon after lunching at Bamboo Atithi. People were still queuing up outside the restaurant, a covered space raised on steel fabrication and favoured for seafood by visitors to Sindhudurg fort and the nearby beaches of Tarkarli and Devbagh Sangam.

Rosary Church stood down the road from Bamboo Atithi. Cars and jeeps crowded the road while their occupants lunched inside the restaurant. Still others waited outside, wanting in. 

Across the road stood sloping-roof houses common to the Konkan. This one had two windows looking out on the street and flanking a doorway reached by a single step that ended at a raised threshold. It's easy to imagine homeowners standing in the door in the evenings to make small talk with passersby from the neighbourhood.

Little boys in half pants waited roadside, running up to vehicles slowing down as they approached Bamboo Atithi before waving their hands and shouting “Lunch, lunch”, all the while pointing ahead, down the road toward what I can only imagine were other restaurants desperate to get some footfalls away from Bamboo Atithi.   

Desperate times called for desperate measures. 

It’s likely that the owner of the restaurant, Malvani Mejvani, frustrated in his attempts to draw Bamboo’s clientele to his own restaurant probably showed his last hand, painting over the wall of a house bang opposite Bamboo Atithi and inviting travellers to his restaurant, Malvani Mejvani, promising authentic Malvani fare.

If that wasn’t enough a line at the bottom assured the traveller that the restaurant lay only a short distance away, an arrow pointing in the same direction the little boys soliciting customers for his restaurant, had.

Visitors chose to wait out outside Bamboo Atithi in the shade of an adjoining double-storeyed house rather than walk further down and try their chances at the rival offering. Maybe some did walk down after all.

Atithi Bamboo is owned by Sanju Gavde and operates out of a largish covered seating area raised on steel fabrication with an outhouse serving as the kitchen. Plastic chairs seat visitors. Plastic tables hold their meal plates. The restaurant is set back from the road and is reached by walking through a garlanded entrance between a stolid double-storeyed building with projecting balcony and an adjoining property.

A large framed painting of Swami Samarth sitting cross-legged hangs from a wall. A plastic garland of plastic flowers, plastic fruits and plastic bulbs seek majesty for his persona.

Wall mounted fans cool the patrons sweating over finding seats at the tables. An open wash basin raised on a platform stands in the corner.

The four of us had waited 20-odd minutes for seats in the roadside restaurant to open up, eyes constantly on lookout for foodies finishing up, feet ever on the ready to rush to emptying tables before others did, a drama Bombayites are familiar with, and even prepared for, but not those on the unhurried west coast.

For twenty-odd minutes we were beaten to the tables by travellers smarter than us, and Ajay was beginning to wear of the wait and the indignity that demands of competing with fellow lunchers for seats invariably entails.

One of the waiters tells me that they’re short-staffed at the moment as some staff-members are yet to return from their Diwali leave. Unlike cities where employees are lucky if they get more than two days off at Diwali, in small towns, absenteeism during Diwali often stretches over a week.

The three waiters on duty were flitting about crazily, not unlike butterflies caught in the heat of the morning sun, flitting this way and that.  

Of the four of us, only Raju was non-vegetarian, and was not about to let go of the opportunity to sink his teeth into Bamboo Atithi’s reputation for serving up some delicious Malvani seafood.

A large poster on the wall listed the seafood menu on offer at the restaurant and illustrated the options with their pictures so no one was left in any doubt as to what to expect on the table.

Pomfret (Paplet)
Black Pomfret (Saranga)
Red Snapper (Tamboshi)
Mackeral (Bangda)
Squid (Makul)
Lobster (Shevand)
Clam (Tisriyo)
Seerfish (Surmai)
Shark (Mori)
Prawns (Kolambi)
Crab (Kekda)

English names were paired with their local, Konkani equivalents.

I had vegetarian thali and as did Ajay and Don. The Kokum was particularly good. For Rs. 70/- the vegetarian thali was a bargain. The non-vegetarian one was costlier, about two to three times as much depending upon the sea-food option ordered by the customer.

The waiter was surprised when I asked him for a receipt upon payment before composing himself and scribbling the total amount on a piece of paper he found somewhere. I didn't insist further on the validity of the piece of paper he stuck in my hand.

At any given time over 60-odd were lunching at the tables, averaging 30-40 minutes on their meal. Lunch-time apparently stretched between 12:00 - 4:00 pm. I thought I could've have earned the Govt. some money by insisting on a valid receipt.  

It was nearing 3:30 pm. It was getting late. We left Sindhudurg fort for later, maybe another sojourn back here sometime in the future. A quick stop at the paanwallah out the entrance and we were ready to roll, and loll.

This time around we chose to stay closer to the sea than on our journey into Malvan from Goa earlier in the day.

We were never really far from the Arabian Sea from the moment we left Malvan on our return journey along the road that winds through Chippi, Parule, Mapne, and Mochemad enroute to Vengurla, and beyond, to Goa. But we were never really near the sea either.

We were somewhere in between, equidistant from the hills on the inside, and the coconut trees along the shore on the outside, in that narrow strip where the West Coast and the Western Ghats mountain ranges jostle to cast the strip in their own character.

But every now and then upon cresting an incline or sweeping wide, we’d occasionally alternate between nudging the hills and the shoreline, and the sea would rise in the breaks to remind of our proximity to the Konkan coast, an experience markedly different from our morning ride into Malvan when we had swept wide off the shore, having kept to the Bombay-Goa highway until it was time to turn west, in the direction of Malvan.

This narrow strip of land, flatter near the sea, runs along India’s west coast a long way, through Maharashtra, and Karnataka, and is known as the Konkan. It has a railway line named after it – the Konkan Railway.

 A temple courtyard in Malvan
Sheltered by lush greenery, punctuated by rivers flowing out to the Arabian Sea, temples in quiet compounds, and inhabited by a largely peaceful people in sloping roof houses, the roads that wind through it are a traveller’s dream and the meanderer's paradise.

The Karli at Chippi 

Meandering through quiet, quaint hamlets with the empty road for company for much of the way, each bend in the road promising to reveal a Konkan secret, make for memorable journeys.

And it’s for this reason alone that the four of us decided to drive through the Konkan hinterland via Vengurla on our way back to Goa, sticking to the coast now that the back roads are no longer as crowded as they once were, before an alternate route servicing Bombay and Goa came up.

And what a ride it turned out to be – at stops along the way.

One such stop materialised, almost out of nowhere, shortly after leaving Malvan.


A burly policeman in a civilian shirt and giveaway khaki pants and standard-issue policemen boots broke his stride roadside as we slowed down near him soon after leaving Malvan town. We were looking for the road that turns off the NH 118 for Vengurla.

“A kilometre ahead, turn right,” he said. “It goes to Vengurla.”

Sure enough, a kilometre on, a kaccha raasta (dirt road) materialised off the NH 118 just like he said.

‘This one?’ I wondered aloud and A, R, and D were likewise in doubt. We had expected the road to Vengurla to be a proper one, asphalted, even if worn, rutted and bumpy. This looked more like a road a construction company would lay to allow trucks carrying building material to reach the site.  

A bunch of local boys whiling time away by their bicycles confirmed that this, bumpy dirt road, would indeed lead us to Vengurla, but not before assuring us that it ran muddy and bumpy only a short way ahead before making way for a asphalted one.

And sure enough it only ran muddy and bumpy for a little further on and we were back on asphalt and rolling quick through flat country.

The road ran straight, disappearing over gentle inclines every once in a while, but never deviating, at least not for a while.

But there's only so much a road can run straight in the Konkan, typically nearer the coast, before the hills exercise their pull, curving them this way and that, and then the coastline takes over again, straightening it. It's a tug of war, no 'wills' actually.

On either side of the road flat, rocky ground abounded, much of it was exposed laterite burnt just a shade dark in the sun. Or was it moss-covered rocky surface darkening upon the sun still-frying laterite that'd only recently been covered over in moss from lingering rains.

The monsoons ended late this year, raining in October like it used to in August.

To the right the rocky laterite expanse ended at Malvan’s shoreline. To the left it stretched a long, long way to gentle rolling hills that nature had fenced parts of the Konkan just as surely as it tangled other parts in folds of hills covered in dense vegetation that ranged from shrubbery to tropical trees.

On the road one never knows what the Konkan landscape will give way to just two or three kilometres down the road, making road journeys a delectable affair of the heart and the mind.

Sometimes the Konkan will surprise the traveller with a sea of fish on hard rocky ground like we found out shortly after the muddy, bouncy road had given way to asphalt as we made for Vengurla.

Six kms. short of the bridge over river Karli in Chippi and thirty-nine kms. short of Vengurla we pulled over the shoulder of the road no sooner we were buffeted by overpowering smell of fish.

And what seemed an unusually dark shade to the flat stretch of laterite turned out to be fish drying in the sun, bits and pieces that didn’t appear destined for the table. 

Empty eye sockets, skeletal remains, shrivelled bodies, exposed fish bones, the whole lot.

Most seemed left-over from catches that went unsold, diverting them for preparing fish meal for poultry. Chicken feed rich in protein is favoured by poultry farmers.

Rows of upright jute sacks dotted the open ground. The ground had turned dark from fish drying in the sun and in the distance resembled the aftermath of a brush fire that had swept past.

Elsewhere small dark mounds of dried fish stood in rows of their own waiting to be collected and deposited into jute sacks to be transported to fish meal manufacturers where I imagine dried fish will be ground and powdered for the market as fish meal.

Clearings where dried fish had been gathered into mounds dotted the area until they merged into one uniform stretch of dark patch. The workers must have begun gathering drying fish into jute sacks early in the day. But much gathering and packing into sacks still remained.   

At first there was no one around as I crossed the road with my camera and approached the sacks spread over a wide area.

Seeing me cross the road, a large group of men sitting in one corner of the field rose one by one and began walking toward me, likely taken by surprise to see a car stop and find me walking up.

Did they think I had stepped over to check what they were upto, or maybe I had been sent over to report back to whoever had tasked them with drying fish. They had no way of knowing what I was upto though they would soon found out. A few women were among the group.

They were talking among themselves in Kannada. They were a long way from Karnataka in this part of coastal Maharashtra.

“No, they aren’t meant to be eaten by humans. These will feed poultry, to feed chickens,” one of them responded to my comment directed to no one in particular that this lot didn’t look like it was destined for the table for human consumption.

A little boy sat among heaps of dried fish, his backside resting on a face-down steel-claw. He played with his shadow when bored with sifting among fishes for unusual shaped ones.  

Fish meal is prized as poultry feed for its protein content. In addition to protein, fish feed contains calcium, phosphorus, other minerals and vitamins favoured in poultry feed. Fish meal is typically by drying and grinding fish.

Poultry feed rich in protein and minerals is designed to improve poultry health and the quality of eventual poultry produce. Mackerels, Sardines, Anchovies are typically preferred to make fish meal.

Out there it was difficult to make out in the mass of dry fish sitting in sacks, in small mounds and still spread out on the ground, drying, what species made up the lot.

Two women were turning over the fish with the steel claws, ensuring they were uniformly dry.

It was nearing four and light was mellowing, casting a golden hue about me. In times such as this, life seems fair and just, and liveable.

A lone truck stood in the distance where the earth curved away, outlining the goods carrier against the sky. Sometimes I am amazed at how objects once outlined against the sky, freed from exercising their presence in a backdrop of other objects, acquire a distinct personality that seems to breathe life into them.

A man emerged from the truck carrying a bundle of rolled-up jute sacks on his head, to where some other men were busy scraping dried fish off the ground with steel claws before filling cane baskets with them.

Then as two men held a sack open, in went the contents of the cane basket.

“We usually let trash fish dry in the sun for two days, sometimes three to ensure there’s little chance of mold that can decay and spoil fish feed,” a youth volunteered as I watched them go about their job smiling and teasing one another in rustic Kannada.

One by one more sacks joined the upright army of sacks of dried fish.  

Thousands upon thousands of fish drying in the noon had rent the air with that distinct smell of dried fish, one that hits you hard, overpowering senses and staggering the mind. In time one gets used to it and is no longer as intolerable as it seemed at first.

Some will crinkle their noses at the strong smell, others will be reminded of their mothers reaching into the family pre-monsoon stock of dried fish stored to help the family get through rainy seasons when fish is difficult to get by or is too costly, and to yet others, the smell of dried fish reminds of the sea, of the rhythm of waves breaking, of days spent looking out to sea under a mellow winter sun.

We got back on the road to Vengurla with the smell snapping furiously at our wheels before slowly loosening its grip once we picked up speed, only to get back to chasing us when a second, equally large patch of earth showed up on the right and more workers stuffing dried fish meal into sacks came into view.

Then nothing, just us and the road, and houses that ducked from view at the sound of the motor.

And somewhere to our right, behind tall trees and gently rising swells of rocky earth, the sea meandered within earshot of four friends out roaming the Konkan on a pleasant day.